Schmidt talks preseason, new challenges as Bona men begin practice

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By Jeff Uveino

ST. BONAVENTURE, NY — Despite having zero seniors on his roster, Mark Schmidt views this year’s Bonnies as a “veteran team.”

Schmidt, who is in his 14th season as head coach of the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team, found himself in a familiar situation in an unfamiliar year on Thursday: The day before the team’s first official practice of the season.

“Nothing has changed in our minds,” Schmidt said. “We’re going about (the first day of practice) just like we would last year. Build the fundamentals.”

NCAA rules allow SBU, like every other Division I basketball program, to hold 30 practices over 42 days leading up to Nov. 25, when teams can begin playing games.

Schmidt said that while he’d like the preseason to feel as normal as possible, he has concerns about getting his players ready.

“I tell the guys when they leave practice, there’s a sense of urgency,” Schmidt said. “The other thing is, there’s no scrimmages this year. There’s no exhibition games. It’s scary that the first game we play counts.”

Normally, Bona plays a “secret scrimmage” in a closed setting before playing an exhibition game at the Reilly Center. SBU has played Alfred University in that game each of the past four years.

SBU enters the season with seven returning players and seven new players. The roster is made up of nine juniors (including transfers), two sophomores and three freshmen. And, what the Bonnies lack in seniority, many of them make up for in big-game experience.

“When you have a young team, I don’t think they know how hard you have to work or what shape you need to be in,” Schmidt said. “Having a veteran team, these guys know. They understand how difficult being successful in the Atlantic 10 is. Any program that has had some success, it makes it easier for the coach because the veterans can say to the young guys, ‘Here’s what you need to do’.”

Kyle Lofton, Osun Osunniyi and Dominick Welch each played big roles in SBU’s trip to the Atlantic 10 championship game two seasons ago, in which the Bonnies lost to Saint Louis. Schmidt will count on the trio, who are now all juniors, to show younger players what it takes to win in the A10.

With the lack of game time against other teams leading up to the start of the regular season, it may be difficult for new players to make enough of an impression to get consistent minutes. Schmidt acknowledged that it may be hard for some of his younger guys to crack the starting lineup, as Bona returns almost all of its scoring from a year ago after only losing one senior to graduation.

“We always talk about having tests,” Schmidt said. “You practice for two or three weeks, and your first test is the scrimmage. That really determines who’s playing well, who’s going to have a spot. Then you have the exhibition game. That’s when the coaches decide, these are going to be the eight or nine guys (who will play).”

This year, players will have to earn their minutes in practice.

“We have a feel of the veteran guys, it’s more the younger guys,” Schmidt said. “It’s been a little more difficult for them because they didn’t have the summer to really learn the culture of St. Bonaventure basketball. Those intrasquad scrimmages are going to be very important.”

Schmidt said that the Bonnies would be scrimmaging in practice much more than normal, and that he wanted to create more opportunities for practices to feel like games. That will involve a plethora of 5-on-5 basketball, he said, as well as the possibility of bringing referees to officiate intrasquad scrimmages.

Another one of Schmidt’s concerns that comes with the lack of games, he said, is the lack of having things to look forward to.

“We’d look forward to the Kent State scrimmage, and look forward to the exhibition game,” Schmidt said. “Right now, it’s just 30 days of practice. It’s a concern that we don’t have those rehearsals to find out what we’re good at and what we need to improve upon.”

As far as when the Bonnies will actually play games? Schmidt said he has “no idea.”

“We think that we’re going to start Nov. 25 in one of these bubbles, but we don’t know,” Schmidt said. “We haven’t really gotten any direction or final say from the Atlantic 10 on whether they’re going to play a couple of their non-conference games in December. There haven’t been any contracts signed. It’s just a fluid situation, and we’re working on it every day.”

The Bonnies will hold a three-hour practice on Friday afternoon, which will become the standard length of their practices going forward. 

“Oct. 15 was highlighted on our family calendar. I tell my wife, the marriage has stopped for six months,” Schmidt said with a grin. “The basketball season has started.”

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